A NIGHT WITH THE SPHINX 21
quiet as a deserted grave. Then I noticed a vast sea which stretched its waters over the whole country on my left, its shore-line being less than a league away. There was an ominous quality in the silence which I could not understand until a deep rumbling sound came from the very heart of the ocean, the earth shook and trembled underneath me, and with a deafening roar an immense wall of water rose into the air and dashed headlong towards us, towards the Sphinx and me, and overwhelmed us both.
There was a pause, whether of one minute or of one thousand years I know not; and once again I sat at the feet of the great statue. I looked around and saw a sea no longer. Instead a vast expanse of half-dried marsh, with here and there large patches of white salty grains drying in the sun, could alone be seen. And the sun shone fiercely over the land until the patches increased in size and number. And still the sun threw its merciless fire upon everything, hunting the last drop of moisture from the marsh and turning all into soft dry land, which was burnt to the colour of pale yellow
The Desert! *
Still the Sphinx gazed out at the landscape; its thick, strong, unmutilated lips shaped as though they were about to break into a smile, itself apparently content with its solitary existence. How perfectly this lonely figure fitted in with its lonely surroundings! In this calm Colossus the very spirit of solitude seemed to have found a worthy incarnation.
And so it waited until one day a small fleet of drifting boats stopped at the riverside and disembarked a group of men who came slowly forward and then prostrated themselves with glad prayers before it.
From that day the spell of silence was broken and henceforward habitations were built on the lowland not far off, and kings came with their priests to pay court to one who was himself the courtless king of the desert.
And with their coming my vision went out, as the flame goes out of a wick when there is no more fuel.